Airline Employees Sue Union for Same Constitutional Protection as Public Employees
Posted On: Jan 09, 2019
Taking notice of an issue recently set forth by the United States Supreme Court, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation launched a lawsuit today against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union on behalf of three airline workers who are currently being forced to pay agency fees to the union. In striking down agency fees in June 2018 for all public sector workers in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court indicated it was an open question whether that ruling prohibiting such fees would apply to railway and airline employees subject to the Railway Labor Act. This suit is the first of its kind post-Janus to seek an answer to that question.
Plaintiffs Lin Rizzo-Rupon, Noemieo Oliveira and Susan Marshall are currently employed by United Airlines as customer service representatives. As airline employees, federal law permits unions to require nonmembers to financially support the union through agency fees. None of the plaintiffs voluntarily chose to join their union, yet all must pay agency fees or risk losing their jobs.
The open question identified by the Supreme Court is whether “Congress’s enactment of a provision allowing, but not requiring, private parties to enter into union-shop arrangements was sufficient to establish governmental action” thereby triggering First Amendment constitutional protections like those found in the Janus v. AFSCME case.
Until 1951, agency fees were illegal as a matter of statutory law under the RLA. This suit seeks to return this protection from forced agency fees as a matter of constitutional law.
“In Janus, the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that state and local governments could not impinge on free speech rights,” said Patrick Wright, the director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. “This lawsuit seeks to make certain the federal government cannot either.”
Lin Rizzo-Rupon, one of the plaintiffs in the case, explained why she decided to take action.
“It’s my money. I don’t feel that I should be required to pay someone to protect my job,” Rizzo-Rupon said. “We now have laws to take care of our health and safety in the workplace. I don’t think I should be paying taxes to the government that’s protecting me and then also be paying these mandatory fees to a union for those same protections.”
The case was filed in federal district court in New Jersey.